Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Online Donors Examined by Both Camps

Parties examine e-donors
Fraud among concerns for online political giving
By Matthew Mosk | The Washington Post
8:09 PM CDT, October 28, 2008
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama's record-breaking $150 million fundraising performance in September has for the first time prompted questions about whether presidential candidates should be permitted to collect huge sums of money through faceless credit card transactions over the Internet.

Lawyers for both the Republican and Democratic Parties have asked the Federal Election Commission to examine the question, pointing to dozens of examples of what they say are lax screening procedures by the presidential campaigns that permitted donors using false names or stolen credit cards to make contributions.

"There is so much money coming in, and yet very little ability to say with certainty that you know who is giving it," said Sean Cairncross, the Republican National Committee's chief counsel.

While the potentially fraudulent or excessive contributions represent only about 1 percent of Obama's staggering haul, the security challenge is one of several major questions raised by the Democrat's fundraising juggernaut.

Concerns about anonymous donations seeping into the campaign began to surface last month, mainly on conservative blogs. Some bloggers described making their own attempts to display the flaws in Obama's fundraising program, donating under such obviously phony names as Osama bin Laden.

Obama officials said they have taken pains to establish a barrier to prevent fake contributions.

In a paper outlining those safeguards, provided to The Washington Post, the campaign said it runs twice-daily sweeps of new donations, looking for irregularities. Flagged contributions are manually reviewed by a team of lawyers, and either cleared or refunded.

Reports of misused credit cards lead to immediate refunds.

In September, according to the campaign, $1.8 million in online contributions was flagged, and $353,000 was refunded. Of the contributions flagged because a foreign address or bank account was involved, 94.1 percent were found to be proper. One-tenth of 1 percent were marked for refund, and 5.77 percent are still being vetted.

But clearly invented names have been used often enough to provoke an outcry from Republican critics. Donors to the Obama campaign using false names such as Doodad Pro and Good Will gave $17,375 through 1,000 separate donations, with no sign that they immediately tripped alarms at the campaign. Of more concern, Cairncross said, are reports that the campaign permitted money from 123 foreign nationals to enter its accounts.

Obama officials said they have identified similar irregularities in the finance records of Republican Sen. John McCain. "Every campaign faces these challenges ... and we have reviewed and strengthened our procedures," said Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman.,0,4036131.story


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